Resources for managing fire and forests in the context of climate change

In collaboration with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS), we developed a ‘menu’ of Adaptation Strategies and Approaches for managing fire under future climate conditions. This ‘Fire Menu’ is modeled after the original menu of Climate Adaptation Strategies and Approaches for Forests published by NIACS (Swanston et al. 2016). The menu is intended to be used as part of the Adaptation Workbook process developed by NIACS and available online through the Climate Change Response Framework. We continue the process of seeking feedback and improving this menu, and the current version is available in the expandable list below, as well as in a downloadable file in the sidebar. 

Fire-Climate Adaptation Strategies and Approaches

    Approach 1.1. Restore or maintain fire in fire-adapted ecosystems
    • Tactic example- Restore fire resilience using prescribed fire and mechanical treatments to manipulate structure and fuels
    • Tactic example- Promote fire and drought-adapted species and communities
    • Tactic example- Increase intentional use of wildfires whenever possible
    • Restore cultural fire practices
    Approach 1.2. Develop fire use strategies in altered or novel ecosystems where fire can play a beneficial role
    • Tactic example- Manage forest restoration for future range of variability
    • Tactic example- Consider using more prescribed fire where supported by scientific evidence
    • Tactic example- Consider using prescribed fire in non-traditional ways (e.g. low-intensity controlled burning in mesic mixed conifer to reduce fuels and risk of high-severity fire)
    Approach 2.1. Remove and prevent the establishment of nonnative invasive species that alter fuel regimes
    • Tactic example- Increase inventory and monitoring of nonnative invasive species, especially early detection
    • Tactic example- Use mechanical or chemical methods to eradicate high priority populations of nonnative invasive species
    • Tactic example- Create and enforce regulations for internal staff, contractors, and the public to prevent accidental introduction of nonnative invasive plant material
    Approach 2.2. Maintain or improve the ability of forests to resist pests and pathogens that may alter fuel regimes
    • Tactic example- Increase inventory and monitoring of pests and pathogens, focusing on high priority areas
    • Tactic example- Anticipate the arrival of pests and pathogens and prioritize management actions
    • Tactic example- Promote species, age class, and stand structure diversity to reduce density of a host species
    • Tactic example- Use chemical control in heavily infested areas
    • Tactic example- Promote pest- and pathogen-resistant species or genotypes during thinning and planting
    • Tactic example- Restrict harvest and transportation of logs in or near stands with known infestations
    Approach 2.3. Limit, selectively apply, and monitor land uses that increase fire risk or threaten fire resilience
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Encourage recreational use in areas with low fire risk
    • Limit increased WUI area resulting from development and urban expansion
    • Monitor and enforce contractor/lease holder fire safety compliance
    Approach 3.1. Protect fire-sensitive and vulnerable ecosystems from fire
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Suppress ignitions in areas sensitive to fire
    • Control fire-adapted non-native invasive species in fire-sensitive native vegetation
    • Implement and maintain fuel breaks in strategic locations
    • Encourage acceptable fire in buffers surrounding fire-sensitive areas
    • Full suppression of wildfires that threaten ecological consequences that conflict with management objectives
    Approach 3.2. Alter forest structure and composition to reduce the risk and spread of unacceptable fire
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Implement strategic fuel treatments/fuel breaks to reduce fire behavior
    • Reduce tree density (total basal area) within stands (thinning, Rx burning) considering historic ranges of variation and anticipated future conditions
    • Reduce ladder fuels and increase crown base height using mechanical or Rx burn treatments
    Approach 3.3 Establish or maintain fuel breaks to stop the spread of unacceptable fire
    Examples of adaption tactics include:
    • Create fuel breaks preventatively in strategic locations
    • Create fuel breaks to protect infrastructure (WUI) and other non-negotiable resources
    Approach 4.1. Promote habitat connectivity and increase ecosystem redundancy
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Increase overall area, number of patches, and sites in various successional stages of each community type
    • Locate and map habitat types, corridors, and patches at a landscape scale, identify priorities for protection and/or restoration
    • Restore native species and vegetation structure in areas of low connectivity
    • Work with partners to achieve connectivity goals at the landscape level
    Approach 4.2 Maintain or create fire refugia
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Inventory and study existing fire refugia to identify processes and conditions that create fire refugia
    • Add refugia to maps/lists of resources requiring special protection during fire suppression/management, communicate this information to fire managers
    • Identify and protect focal areas for regeneration and recovery following a disturbance
    Approach 4.3. Stabilize and enhance the physical fire footprint
    • Use contour felling, wood mulching, and other slope stabilization techniques to reduce soil loss and post-fire flooding
    • Create suitable physical conditions for natural regeneration through site preparation after a burn to promote seed establishment
    • Seed and re-plant with native species
    • Avoid or limit disturbances such as grazing, logging operations, and road construction
    Approach 4.4 Promote recovery of native vegetation and habitat
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Experiment with seeding or planting native species to compete with invasive non-native species expected to colonize after fire
    • Restore or increase a community type across a range of topographic positions and elevations
    • Plant native species with an emphasis on those adapted to expected future conditions
    Approach 5.1 Maintain or increase structural diversity from stand to landscape scales
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Employ techniques such as variable-density treatments or irregular fire return intervals in order to encourage the development of multiple age cohorts
    • Implement a variety of management activities or silvicultural prescriptions across areas with similar starting conditions to diversify forest conditions and evaluate different management approaches
    • Use prescribed burning to create openings or early successional habitat
    Approach 5.2 Promote diversity within and among communities to enhance fire resilience
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Maintain up-to-date inventory of native plant species in management area, monitor health of populations
    • Use silvicultural treatments to promote and enhance diverse regeneration of native species
    • Plant desired native species to augment their populations in areas otherwise expected to regenerate naturally
    • Identify keystone species and roles in fire adapted systems, maintain or restore where possible
    • Prioritize and maintain unique sites and sensitive or at-risk ecological communities
    Approach 6.1. Promote native species and genotypes that are better adapted to future climate and fire regimes and disfavor species that are distinctly maladapted
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Plant stock from seeds collected from local trees that have survived past fire and other disturbances
    • Monitor areas of natural regeneration to identify well-adapted phenotypes
    • Protect existing, species resilient to fire and other disturbances
    • Promote species with shorter times to sexual maturity
    • Promote species with wider ecological amplitude
    • Promote species with specific fire-/drought-resilient traits
    • Remove unhealthy individuals of a declining species to promote other species known or expected to be better adapted
    • Do not continue to promote species that are known or expected to maladapted to future fire regimes
    • Increase seed banking to preserve fire resilient species and genotypes
    Approach 6.2. Use plant materials from regional areas that have current climate and fire regimes similar to anticipated future conditions
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Use mapping programs to match seeds collected from a known origin to planting sites based on climate and fire regime data
    • Plant seedlings germinated from seeds collected from various locations (i.e., different ecotypes) throughout a species’ native range
    • Plant stock from seeds of the same species, collected in warmer and drier locations in the region
    Approach 7.1. Facilitate the movement of species that are expected to be adapted to future climate and fire regimes
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Plant disturbance and fire-adapted species on sites within the current range that have not been historically occupied by those species
    • Consider planting species native to lower elevations, drier, and/or warmer geographic areas nearby, or areas with more frequent fire, based on projected range expansion
      Approach 7.2. Use fire as a tool to align existing vegetation communities with changing climate and fire regimes
      Examples of adaptation tactics include:
      • Shift prescribed burn seasons to align with project climatic changes
      • Consider using managed and/or prescribed fire to facilitate transition to new fire regimes
      • Consider increasing acreage treated with prescribed fire in the short term in areas where current regeneration responses are desirable (and future regeneration trends are uncertain)
    Approach 8.1. Revegetate burned areas using fire-tolerant and drought-adapted species and genotypes
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Integrate climate-sensitive revegetation planning into the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) and other post-fire activities
    • Consider specific experiments such as common gardens to test performance of different species or genetically different populations
    • Monitor and control invasive species
    • Focus active revegetation efforts in areas where natural regeneration is slow or absent
    Approach 8.2. Allow for areas of natural regeneration to test for future-adapted species
    • Increase post-fire monitoring to collect information on mortality and regeneration at the species level
    • Incorporate areas of natural regeneration or ‘passive realignment’ into BAER and other post-fire management and monitor outcomes
    • Consider traits such as drought-tolerance, shade tolerance, and C3/C4 pathways in monitoring efforts
    Approach 8.3. Maintain ecosystems that have undergone post-fire type conversion or realignment
    • Tactic example- Consider future range of variability in post-fire management
    • Plant species expected to be better adapted to future conditions, especially where natural regeneration is slow or absent
    • Create novel communities where the level of disturbance necessitates intensive remediation efforts to recover desired ecosystem services or characteristics (e.g. tree cover)
    • Reduce or remove focus on eradication of nonnative or aggressive native species where they may form part of a novel community that is preferable to a lack of vegetation
    Approach 9.1. Develop adaptive staffing and budgeting strategies
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Cross train staff to prepare for short time frame/ high effort projects
    • Implement new agreements with partners to increase implementation capacity
    • Consider establishing a dedicated staff person to navigate partnerships and agreements
    • Strategically use single-year funds
    Approach 9.2. Explicitly consider changing climate and fire regimes during the planning process and adaptive management cycle
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Devise flexible management protocols to avoid rigid requirements to restore historic conditions
    • Explicitly consider opportunities created by a longer prescribed burning season
    • Build ‘if/then’ statements before fire or other disturbance events to plan and prepare for multiple future management scenarios
    Approach 9.3 Engage and incorporate values of Indigenous communities in fire management decisions
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Understand the role of Indigenous fire stewardship and cultural burning practices in your geographic area
    • Engage in dialogue with Indigenous nations, agencies, and stakeholders early in the planning process, while respecting their right to opt out of participation
    • Increase Indigenous representation by supporting Native early career professionals in the fire science and management communities
    Approach 10.1 Increase fuel reduction treatments in the wildland-urban interface (WUI)
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Implement mechanical thinning in areas adjacent to developed areas and structures
    • Develop spatial priorities for implementation of thinning or other fire mitigation efforts
  • Consider the full spectrum of ecosystem services that may be compromised by unacceptable fire in the WUI (e.g., soil stabilization, flood control, water quality, wildlife habitat, recreation)
    Approach 10.2. Actively promote broad social awareness and increase education about anticipated effects of climate change on fire regimes
    Examples of adaptation tactics include:
    • Share climate adaptation plans and examples of implementation with the public
    • Explicitly address climate adaptation in agency planning documents made available to the public
    • Communicate example of climate adaptation efforts that have social benefits to stakeholders and the public (e.g. increased opportunities for products like fuelwood)